Genetic Relationships of Semitic and Indo-Iranian speaking groups in Iran

If you don’t know already, I’m of Iranian decent. I was born in Tehran, but because of persistent socio-political instability in that region of the world, my family and I immigrated out of the country about 20 years ago. But just cause I live somewhere else doesn’t mean I’m not interested in my background. I’ve always been curious and inquisitive about my heritage. I’ve come to understand my mother’s and father’s lineage come from very different cultural backgrounds.

My mother’s family have been established Tehranians for quite sometime and because of the nature of big city life, their heritage has been mixed and lost. But if you look at members of my mother’s family, they are fair skinned and have blond hair with green or blue eyes. Often, they get mistaken for Europeans, which leads me to think they have a different heritage from my father’s side of the family. I’ve sequenced a short bit of my mtDNA and can only figure out that my maternal lineage has the haplotype H4 signature, which is very frequent in middle eastern populations, and not enough of a resolving feature to really make make any strong conclusions about where that half of me comes from.

Bakhtiari Women on HorsesWhat we know of my father’s family differs greatly. My dad’s parents hauled out of Lorestan and into Tehran. Lorestan is a western Iranian province smack dab in the Zagros Mountains. It is sometimes home to the Bakhtiari, a nomadic pastoralist group that you may have been introduced in your cultural anthropology learnings. The Bakhtiari regularly speak Luri, a language that’s classified as Indo-Iranian. Indo-Iranian languages are distinct from languages spoken by Semitic peoples, such as Arabic and Hebrew, if you want more information about this distinction check out

Suffice to say, I got really interested to stumble upon an early online release paper from the Annals of Human Genetics, which investigates the, “Close Genetic Relationship Between Semitic-speaking and Indo-European-speaking Groups in Iran,” because it has tangents to at least half of my known heritage. Academics from the Max Planck Powerhouse of Evolutionary Anthropology and Tehran University collaborated on figuring out who the Bakhtiari are related to.

In order to carry out the study 99 people were sampled from a different province, Khuzestan, with almost 50 to 50 ratio of people from both ethnicities. The authors honed in on comparing the mtDNA HV1 sequences, eleven Y chromosome bi-allelic markers, and 9 Y-STR loci. STRs are a class of polymorphisms that, like microsatellites, consist of a repeated pattern of two or more nucleotides. The repeats are directly adjacent to each other and can range in length from 2 to 10 base pairs. They usually exist in the non-coding introns of genes.

Anyways, all these different loci show that the Iranian-Arabs share close relatedness of to the Bakhtiari as well as with neighboring geographic groups, irrespective of the language spoken. Haplogroups J2 and G are especially intriguing because they are found in really high frequencies in Bakhtiari and Iranian-Arab populations. Like I mentioned above, the Bakhtiari are a distinctly different cultural group that speak a Indo-Iranian language which does not belong to the Afro-Asiatic linguistic family that classify Semitic speaking Iranian-Arabs. Many cultural barriers have been formed to keep the Bakhtiari way of life unique, and one of them is language. So it doesn’t make sense that these two linguistically separate groups share two haplogroup signatures in such a disproportionally high frequency.

mtDNA haplogroups in Indo-European-speaking groups and in Semitic-speaking groups

A comparison of Iranian-Arabs to other Semitic speaking groups showed that Semitic-speaking North African groups are way more distant genetically from Semitic-speaking groups from the Near East and Iran. The above illustration documents this. Haplogroup L is almost nonexistent east of Iraq, despite the fact there are Semitic speaking populations in foothills of the Zagros mountains in Iran.

Now, I said that was surprising because often language is a big barrier, as recently expressed by Razib with the Slavs as an example. In Iran however, a different situation exists. There is a lack of significant differentiation between west Asian Semitic-speaking and Indo-European-speaking groups indicates that language has not been a substantial barrier to gene flow in this part of the world. But this leads me to wonder about the origins of Iranian-Arabs, if they are genetically less similar to other Semitic speakers, doesn’t that imply they were ‘cultural converts’?

P.S., If you do read the paper, take note of the disclaimer the authors put about inscribing identity.

25 thoughts on “Genetic Relationships of Semitic and Indo-Iranian speaking groups in Iran

  1. Hi Kambiz,
    I’m curious about the disclaimer about inscribing identity that you refer to. Where in the paper is this?

  2. Yann, here’s what’s written in the acknowledgments on page 10 of the paper,

    “This study focuses on the relationships of populations as reflected by mtDNA and Y-chromosomal variation. It does not aim at ascribing ethnicity to individual groups, nor does it intend to evaluate the self-identification of such groups.”

  3. “My mother’s family have been established Tehranians for quite sometime and because of the nature of big city life, their heritage has been mixed and lost. But if you look at members of my mother’s family, they are fair skinned and have blond hair with green or blue eyes.”

    My mother is Iranian. (And my father is Canadian, of Northern European descent.)

    On my mother’s side — on my Iranian side — we have a similar characteristic. Almost all the kids are born with blonde hair and blue eyes.

    But generally the blonde hair and blue eyes change color as we get older… somewhere between the ages of 5 and 20. (It various from person to person in the family.)

    When the eyes change color, they change to either brown, green, or hazel. (I’ve actually had all 4 colors throughout my life… and they’re hazel now.)

    And when the hair changes color, it changes either to black or brown.

    Those people who are born with that characteristic generally have fairer skin.

    I’ve actually wondered if whatever allele(s) are responsible for our blue eyes or blonde hair also has an influence on skin tone. (Excuse me if the answer to that question is apparent… I’m by no means an expert in genetics.)

    This characteristic seems like it can skip generations too. For example, as far as we know, my Mom didn’t have blonde hair or blue eyes when she was young, but I did.

  4. @efsha, you said…

    “There are 6% haplogroup L in southern part of Iran.”

    I’m assuming you’re saying that in response to the map.

    I believe the 6% haplogroup L in the south figure is for Y-DNA.

    The map is, however, for mtDNA.

    (That’s a different Haplogroup L.)

  5. Hi Kambiz,

    As you know bakhtiari people consist of several so called “tayefe”.
    I’m just wondring which tayefe:s the samples were taken from.

  6. hi ,
    this map is very instructive , i’m an Algerian and i very often have to fight against this arab identity that is imposed to my people and to other north-west africans while all evidence shows that we are not arabs , even in looks we don’t look like middle easterners , even if the color is gloabally similar to that of syrians or lebanese , but the features are quite different , the color is simply linked to the level of sunshine in an area , it doesn’t determine if two populations are linked or not , language is really the most determining factor in creating false kinships between different populations , i hope this map and similar ones are widely shown throughout north africa , in the hope that our people will eventually wake up

  7. I’m confused. Who are Iranian Arabs? Are there parts of Iran with arab populations? And what are the semitic languages of Iran?

  8. Kambiz,
    Where do Iranian Jews fit in, anthropologically speaking? Do we have more in common genetically with Arabs and / or other Middle-Eastern Jewish populations, or do we share common ancestry with Indo- European speaking Iranians? Has anybody researched the mDNA or Iranian Jews?

  9. Laila,

    I think it’s important for people to take into account that ancient Babylon and Persia’s frontiers were changed several times, meaning and englobed disting populations, which in some cases became mixed. The hebrews/jews are an example of that. The hebrew nation in it’s beggining was probably a mixture of tribes coming from what is now Georgia, Armenia, Southern Turkey, Eastern Syria, Iraq and Western Iran. These tribes which used to worship babylonian deities, eventually began emigrating towards Israel (at the time called Canaan), where they became mixed with the local population, which was already a mixture of different tribes, namely the amelekites, the amorites, the hitites, the hurians and the philistines, some of which are likely to have european roots.

    Later on, as the Torah suggests, many of these hebrews moved on to Egypt. It’s likely that they remained there untill the end of Akhenaton’s rule, and were largely influenced by Egyptian culture. In fact, it is possible that montheism among the hebrews was something inherited from this Pharaoh and that was possibly the motive why they became persecuted after Akhenaton’s death, since the local priest wished to impose their politheistic religion again. However it’s also very possible that monotheism among the hebrews derives from indo-aryan influence, namely from Zoroastrianism. What seems clear to me is that the hebrew religion was largely influenced by other middle eastern religions. The 10 Commandments, for instance, seem to be based on the egyptian Book of Death, while many of the myths in the Bereshith (Genesis) are very likely inspired by babylonian epic – Gilgamesh, which is nothing to be surprised about, given that the hebrews were originally a babylonian people. In fact, i would say that all ancient middle eastern and south european religions seem to be connected in a way or another, some more than others.

    The hebrews then moved on back to Canaan , bringing along with them other tribes (perhaps already converted) from Egypt and other parts of North Africa and conquered it, legitimizing it’s military operations through their religion. They later named it Israel and this point it’s possible that they were divided into 12 main tribes. Among these, Judah was one of the most powerfull ones.

    Israel, due to the rivalry among its 12 main tribes, would later on become divided in two, and the Northern region was soon invaded by assyrians, which led to the dispersal of some of it’s population throughout the Middle East and possibly North Africa and Southern Europe.
    This was then followed by the babylonian, persian, and greek invasions which led to more of the same. Of course with all these invasions, hebrews became even more exposed to other cultures.
    Then, in 61 BC, came the romans, and along with them, their culture and technology. Their presence and military control was not accepted by most hebrews/jews (even though this represent new commercial opportunities for many) and it was at this time that rebel sects such as the pharisees became popular.

    Considering Immanuel Yeshua (also known as Jesus Christ) existed, this was probably the one to which he belonged. The pharisees who were inspired by the teachings of Hillel and the belief in a Messiah that would set Israel free, gather all the tribes and bring universal peace were seen as threat not only to the romans but another jewish sect – the saducees, who refused the talmudic tradition and complied with the romans and therefore were regarded by many as traitors. Immanuel Yeshua was very likely one their most radical opponents, and as result of that some people began considering him to be a Messiah and created myths about him in order to make his cause more atractive. The logic response to this threat was his death (by crucifiction or not). More myths about him and religious rituals would later arise, most of which them seem to be based on the indo-aryan religion- Mithraism (very popular among the romans and a rival to Judaism), probably due to the intent of some of his followers to make his religion more acceptable among the gentiles. To sum it up, Christianism ended up developing itself basically as mixture of Talmudic Judaism with Mithraism.

    However, Immanuel Yeshua, would not be the only one ot be considered the Messiah. As tensions between jews and romans began to increase, a man known as Bar Kokhba arised as the hope of freedom, but to no avail, as he would eventually lose the war against the romans, which ended in a dramatic way, culminating with the suicide of thousands in Masada.

    Among all these conflicts it’s not surprising at all that many emigrated towards other parts of the world, Persia being one of them. However a subtancial part of it’s population remained in Israel and would later convert to Islam, causing their descedants to lose track of its hebrew origins, just like many portuguese, spanish and south americans still do these days.

    Now, as an atheist portuguese who descends from sephardi jews there’s nothing more depressive than seeing people of the same blood fighting each other, due to religious segregation, ignorance and violence. Would they be aware of their common ancestry, the falsehood and dangers that religion exarcebates and the importance of humanistic and scientific/rational values and perhaps all people of hebrew origins would be living today in peace as one prosperous nation with one of the most diversified culture (sephardi, mizrahi and ashkenazi). Of course the same should apply to all humans in larger scale.

  10. I am glad there isn`t racial barier between different languages in your country.But Mid-East people are sometimes caught by European racism:skin,hair…Ridiculouse Lebanese had shoun swastika on his site,but it disappeared soon after genetic research of Lebanese people.Good lack to all ant-racists

  11. to the berber “youcef” :algeria like north africa is influenced by eastern influencers even homonid came from north arabia (syria mesopotamia) ; we care the same arab gene eu9 and eu 10 called “j”
    i don’t speak about berber bantoustans!!! i speak only about the arab majority who looks like arab lebanese syrians iraquis ahwazee.

  12. arab iranians like arab north africans share the same eu9 eu10 “j” so i don’t know which fake studies you speak about!!!

  13. hi, my father and mother from southern Iran (bushehr) they speak arabic and we classified as Iranian Arabs , but we look Iranians 100% , so, language doesn’t decide you real ethnic groups… I believe that I’m came from Persian ancestors…
    That’s why, the genetics for people in the same place are usually near (whatever their language is).

  14. i am of kurdish+ lore origin from iran. my paternal line is from zand tribe and maternal from kalhor tribe . recent dna test showed i have y haplogroup
    T m70 . and apearently this haplo is frommesopetamian origin!
    i wonder where is it comming as this haplo is not indo- european and not turk or semite!!! then which group of ancient people might had this haplo,
    sumerians , kassites, hurrian?

  15. persians has absolutlyno relatioanwith aryan race, the only people in middle east who has clues of aryans are TURKS not semit black headed persians, if you dont believe go and test your genums

  16. mahdi
    who has said that aryn means blond ?!!
    nobody has seen the first aryan !
    you turks speak an altaic language like mongols !
    if most of you do not look loke mongols it is because of mixture with caucausians , aryan medes , arabs ( two big arab tribes arrived in azarbaijan !! ) , although still you can see turkic faces with somehow turkic eyes in azarbaijan specially in villages !!
    althogh arabs invaded iran but the race did not change a lot ! go and see that turkey people have more j2 halogroup than iranians !!

  17. about Persians claim to be whites!! and aryans!!:
    it all begun by Pahlavi regime’s propaganda, you should know that the country iran is consisted of two main ethnic groups, brown- Semitic Persians and semi white Azeri and other Turkic people, now until about 100 years ago it was those Turkic people who were ruling the country and everything was fine with it, but as soon as Persians took control things got changed, Persians tried to assimilate Turkic people with all means possible, and then someone appeared around in the world called “Hitler” and declared that al none Aryan people are best and such, thus Pahlavi begun a new program, since only white people in Iran could be found among those Turkic ones they made a plan to assimilate Iranian Azeris and use them as pure white Aryan Persians! they begun a very vast propaganda, bribed many historians and made a fake history for ancient Persian, (while all Greek references have described Persians as the other way!!).

    Pahlavi had many goals by those devises:

    1- assimilate Iranian Turks and thus block any separation leanings.

    2- buy a better international position for Persians.

    3- Compensate the historical obsession of Persian people who were ruled by non persians for almost 14 centuries.

    4- Make Persians to hate Arabs and Islam as the personal wish of Pahlavi king was such.

    the pressure on Azeris went so high that about 65 years ago they begun an armed movement to separate, but Pahlavi tanks invaded Tabriz and killed many people, from that day Azeris say that Iran has occupied the southern Azerbaijan.

    by the way, the name Iran itself is an innovation of Pahlavi regime, they use this name and say it means the land of aryans hence we are aryans! even now persians use documents of iranian Azeris to prove themselves as whites and aryans! even now Azeris are not allowed to teach their own language in their schools.


    they say such nonsenses like if they are indo Europeans and Arabs are not white like them and such, while Persians are very brown, they look like a mixture between Arabs and Dravidians, the whitest persian could be an arab! i swear most of the arabs are whiter than any persians, but remember that about 40% of iran’s population are of turkic descends. some of them are really white but the majority just have some white traits.

    the Pahlavi regime’s propaganda was so immense that many persians actually believed it, they now consider themselves as pure Aryans!! and consider some on called king Cyrus who had no brilliant records as great Cyrus! and almost as a holy god! while he was in fact one of the most notorious kings of Persia and ended up by the hands of real Aryans, a group of scythian proto turkic people had got into current Azerbaijan and defeated and slain king cyrus near the river of Arax, they were led by a woman called Tumruz (Tomyris in greek references).

    it appears if scythians (SAKHA proto Turkic people, the first known white ethnics) had the ability of creating some kind of sparks or fire or such a thing, the same thing is also mentioned in Scandinavian and Azerbaijan mythology.

    did you know if Persians took Zoroastrian religion from Sakhas?

    at those times Persians were not totally converted to Zoroastrianism, Persians were following MITRAISM (worshiping son) before they got in contact with Scythian (SAKHA) proto Turkic people from central Asia and learned the Zoroastrian religion from them, there went a lot of tensions between Persians and SAKHAs until king Cyrus invaded their lands in current Azerbaijan and got slain by them, SAKHAs were led by a woman called TUMRUS (TOMYRIS in Greek accounts).

    there are lots of TURKIC words in Zoroastrian books, the AVESTA; though the original version got burnt during Alexander’s invasion.

    Just look at what remains of ancient Persia’s cornics and stone shapes, do those people drawed on stones look any kind of white people? Hell no!!
    Beside, Ancient Persians were using Ilamits scripts and according to a recent genetic study shown in BBS TV Persians are direct descendant of Ilamits

    1. The sad part is, when your proud “TURK” relatives are asked about their origins in western countries they all shout out, veee arrr PERSIANSSSSS.

  18. To all these hateful turks who always pester any topic related to Greece or Iran: Turks are basically Chinese/Mongolian herds, you have nothing to do with the antolians who once lived there. They had more in common with us Greeks or the Persians.

    1. sorry but Greks are proven to be genetic-linguistic and Cultural off spring of northern Ethiopians, Internet is full of articles and proof about this, and who evr has ever been in Greece knows that your people are very very dark featured and mostly lok like Persians-Arabs, trying to be connceted into Turks wont make you white, Turks are a light year whiter than you, and stop ruining EU, get the hell of of Europe!

  19. As an Iranian/Persian, I checked my DNA ancestry for $150 using the which is a highly recommended service and quite established and I had ZERO middle eastern ancestry of any kind. I was a huge mix and my highest match was a low match which is expected with any battle ground population such as Iran. My highest match ( low match of 35%) was for Northern Ireland, then Southern Ireland, and then 25% with Afghanistan (Caucasian tribes segment) and then followed by many regions in Poland and eastern Eu, and Italy and France. Afghanistan was the ONLY region closest to Iran or middle east that I had in my profile. I look typical Persian, black hair, big brown eyes, and pale skin. My maternal side settled in Tehran with Tafreshi ancestry but the village they trace themselves to and quite accurately has a polish name in the mountains near Tafresh and Saveh. Interestingly, most people in these area are VERY light. Almost no one in my maternal side has a dark eye color and most my mom’s relatives have BLUE/Gray Eye color and have a very slavic look, people always think my mom is Russian and she does look Russian, my grand mother and all her siblings look like they just got to Iran as some Polish peasants. My father side are all from Mashad and Eastern Iran ( explains Afghanistan) and have Turkic( central Asian) heritage of some sort and do not have light colors, other than pale skin. Interestingly, my son was born with bright RED COPPER hair and greenish eyes and my husband is a typical blond blue eyes British. For Red Hair, both parents MUST have the genes and still that is a LOW chance of having the child with red hair and in my case, it is quite interesting. That may also explain the Irish ancestry (celtic). Indeed, the historical accounts that celts went to northern Europe from middle east/anatolian regions and their very middle eastern sounding language may indeed be true. Not that my ancestors moved from Ireland to Iran, more like the Irish and Celts for the most part LIVED in a place like Iran thousands of yrs ago and migrated north and in my case, one could say there is a proof for such a hypothesis.

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